If there is one defining comfort food for millions of Americans, it's macaroni and cheese and in recent years it has taken on a culinary life of its own.
That celebration of an American classic, along with some pairing of the Central Coast's finest beer and wine, will be on display from 2-6 p.m. Saturday at the Avila Beach Golf Resort with the sixth Mac and Cheese Fest.
"It's something we all eat at some point," said Debbie Thomas, owner of Thomas Hill Organics, which has restaurants in Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. "So, for us to take the box mac and cheese that we all grew up with, and to put a little twist on it to make it more like fine dining, I think it's fabulous."
About 25 restaurants from the Central Coast, along with a formidable challenger from Bakersfield, will compete in Saturday's event. The Mac and Cheese Fest will also have more than 25 wineries and breweries providing samples, and Paso Robles' BarrelHouse Brewery will have full pours of their beers for sale at the event. The event is for those 21-years-old and over.
"We are really excited about the camaraderie of our competitors that has built for the last few years," said Sam Brandon, who helps organize the event on behalf of American General Media, which owns the festival, and the KRUSH 92.5. "It makes for a really fun event. This really makes it the best event we've done yet."
Leading the way is defending champion Jeffry's Catering, which operates out of Paso Robles' Barton Family Wines, and who stunned everyone with a steakhouse mac and cheese, but even that creation was almost toppled by Bakersfield's Countryside Grill, which has won the Bakersfield Mac and Cheese Fest the last two years with spicy Chile Verde mac and cheese.
"We are going to change it up," said Jeffry Weisinger, the owner of Jeffry's Catering, who added he's looking forward to defending his 2016 title. "We are going to mix up. I'm keeping it close to my chest."
The simplicity of mac and cheese actually provides a challenge for the chefs trying to put their own distinctive flavor with the meal.
"It's just a one pot cooking thing," said Chef Shaun Behrens, who works with San Luis Obispo's Luna Red and Mint + Craft. "I mean it's like grandma. To me it could be paella, it could be mac and cheese, it could be cioppino, it could be a bouillabaisse, it is really just a comfortable part of it, and it's so versatile."
From traditional Mac and cheese with a lot of cheesy variety to those with bacon or Chile Verde, there will be something for everyone at the Mac and Cheese Fest.